LAKE WORTH BEACH, Fla. — Palm Beach County School Superintendent Michael Burke met with LGBTQ+ students Wednesday in efforts to find ways to make schools more inclusive.
The meeting occurred at the Compass Community Center in Lake Worth Beach.
It was a night of tough but honest conversation as students shared their experience being LGBTQ+ in Palm Beach County schools.
"Just sitting here in a circle close to our students, hearing them tell their stories, was incredibly impactful to me," Burke said.
While sitting in a circle, one by one, students spoke of harassment, sexual assault and even bullying from teachers.
"I really don't like hearing that, and it's tough," Burke said. "It was gut-wrenching. It was heartbreaking. I can't understand how anybody would feel like that's acceptable behavior."
The goal is to make Palm Beach County schools more inclusive to all members.
In the audience were also parents of the students like Sean Mason.
"She's had problems at school," Mason said. "It's just a lot of kids picking on her. To me, I don't think that's right. I like her to express herself and be her own self and I'm here to support her."
During the meeting, Mason also shared his personal story about bullying and encouraged the superintendent to take action.
"Be able to listen to these kids' concerns and be open to their solutions and ideas, which sound pretty simple to me," Julie Seaver, the executive director at Compass, said.
Among those solutions were working security cameras, gender-neutral bathrooms and respect from both students and staff on who they are and how they identify.
"So, if leadership is not on board, then teachers aren't on board and they can't be held accountable, which is what the students were asking for tonight — accountability — and I applaud them for that," Seaver said.
Burke said the goal of meeting with students is to be accessible to all students and make sure the school district is being responsive.
"You know, we all have our differences, but I would hope as a society we grow to be accepting," he said.